Union Station owner in town to check on progress

James Coleman Jr., of New Orleans, chairman of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, visits Union Station in New London Friday, July 10, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
James Coleman Jr., of New Orleans, chairman of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, visits Union Station in New London Friday, July 10, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — Union Station owner James Coleman Jr. was in town Friday to check on work being done to the historic Henry Hobson Richardson-designed station.

He talked with The Day about plans to open an organic, locally sourced restaurant and described renovation work that has already started. His goal is to have the work done before the National Coast Guard Museum, which is adjacent to the station, opens in the next three to five years.

Coleman purchased the station earlier this year for $3 million from longtime owners Barbara Timken and Todd O'Donnell. He is the chairman of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, which is raising money to build the museum. The entire project is expected to cost $100 million.

The station serves both Amtrak and Shore Line East trains. Coleman has said that he intends to keep the building as a train station.

A resident of New Orleans, Coleman is no stranger to the railroad industry; his family owned the East Jersey Railroad, and his wife's family owned the Union Pacific Railroad.

He is chairman of International Matex Tank Terminals in New Orleans.

While standing in the waiting area of the station Friday afternoon, Coleman said he'd been in town several times over the past few weeks doing business.

Coleman said he is in talks about tenants for the second floor, most likely tenants associated with the museum.

He's also working to bring in the organic local food restaurant to the first floor of the station, which currently hosts the waiting area.

The restaurant, as planned now, would be situated in a corner of the first floor, and would feature both inside and outdoor seating. Coleman said he'd like the restaurant to serve food that comes from no farther than 50 miles from New London.

People like coming to the train station, he said, noting that having a restaurant there could attract business people during their lunch break.

In an interview with The Day after purchasing the brick building, Coleman said it needed a great deal of restoration and investment. In particular, he said, a lot of work is needed on the roof as well as on the interior, and the elevators weren't working.

Work is underway to renovate the elevators, he said Friday, and there are plans to renovate the portion of the building that hosts the Greyhound Bus offices.

The work on the station is being paid for by Coleman and not the museum association, Richard Grahn, who recently became president/chief executive officer of the museum association, confirmed Friday.

The state has committed $20 million to the total $100 million project for a pedestrian bridge that will connect to the museum from Water Street. Grahn said the museum association has raised more than $5 million beyond that, but would not identify a specific amount as an announcement about a large donation is planned for August.

Grahn said museum association officials have been meeting monthly with a "group of interested stakeholders" including city and state officials, representatives from Amtrak, representatives from the Cross Sound and Fishers Island ferries and local business officials "to scope out the nature of the pedestrian bridge and what kind of infrastructure ultimately is going to be necessary."

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: @JuliaSBergman

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